Sheila Turnage: THREE TIMES LUCKY!

Some months ago I was fortunate to receive an ARC of Sheila Turnage’s debut novel for young readers, Three Times Lucky.  What a laugh riot!  I loved it!  Who wouldn’t love Mo LoBeau and the whole colorful cast of characters at Tupelo Landing?  And here’s the good news … now you can get your own copy because Three Times Lucky launches May 9!

I asked Sheila Turnage to answer some questions for us, so here goes:

Thanks for coming by, Sheila, and congratulations on the wonderful reception Three Times Lucky is getting!  Please give us the scoop!

The book is getting great reviews, which is fantastic.  It’s a Junior Library Guild Selection for Spring 2012 and a Summer 2012 SIBA “Okra Pick” – an award the Southeastern Independent Booksellers Alliance gives to their favorite new books.  The people close to me like it too – which is wonderful for me, personally.  When you write a funny story set close to home, you’re taking a risk.  But so far so good!

Can you sum up the book’s plot? 

Three Times Lucky is the story of rising sixth-graders Miss Moses LoBeau and Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, who set out to solve a murder and end up tackling the mysteries of their own lives in the process.  It’s fast, it’s funny, and it’s full of life.

Can you tell us how this book came to be published? 

Sure!  I wrote Three Times Lucky a little at a time over several years as narrator Mo LoBeau “talked” to me in my imagination.  Then I took it to a writing class and read it to other writers, and got their feedback.  After that I sent part of it to my agent, who told me it’s for middle grade readers.  (I had no idea – I was just trying to write a good book.)

My agent sent it to maybe a dozen publishers, and Dial/Penguin ended up buying it a couple weeks later.  Which is great!  Once it ended up at Dial I worked with a very talented editor named Kathy Dawson.   As I worked with Kathy, the characters found more depth, and the plot became more layered.  And Three Times Lucky became the book it is today.

Tell us why we should buy this book. 

Because you are going to have a blast reading it.  It’s fast, it’s funny and full of heart – thanks mostly to narrator Miss Moses LoBeau, rising sixth grader, and her best friend Dale Earnhardt Johnson III.

Who or what has been the greatest inspiration for your stories? 

The people and places around me, really.  Three Times Lucky is set in eastern NC, where I’ve lived most of my life.  It’s rural and lush here, a place of slow rivers and small towns…  It’s a place that’s maintained its culture – the rhythm of the language, the humor, the sense of things.  I think those rhythms inspire me more than anything.  That and the everyday courage of people around me.

You have the chance to give one piece of advice to teen readers.  What is that? 

Read what you love.  And if you have the opportunity, read to a little kid.  It will change that kid’s life.  I know people reading to me changed mine.

Why do you write?   

I write because I love it.  I write because I’m nosy – I want to find out what the story is, and where the characters go.  And I write because it’s fun.  I wrote Three Times Lucky for the absolute joy of it.

What helps you write? 

Sometimes a character like Mo almost dares me to pick up a pencil and follow her around, to see what she has to say.  I call that “creative eavesdropping.”  Also – and this might sound dull – a deadline helps me!  It can be anything from having an assignment in a writing class to having a deadline from my editor.  Or (and this may sound pathetic) it can be a deadline I made up!  A deadline gets my pen scribbling, and I find characters love a scribbling pen.

How do your ideas come to you? 

My characters “talk” to me in my imagination, and I write what they say as fast as I can without worrying about whether it makes sense or whether anyone is going to like it or whether it has an ending.  I just write, usually in long-hand in a spiral notebook, but also on scraps of paper, napkins, whatever’s there.  In this case, an eleven-year-old girl in plaid sneakers just started kicking against the door of my imagination and saying things like, “Hey, I’m Mo LoBeau.  You got a minute?  I got a story to tell.”  I did have a minute, eventually… and she DID have a story to tell!

How long have you been writing? 

I wrote my first story in first grade.  I got to read it to some third graders and I loved it.  My teacher told me I was a good writer, and I believed her all the way through me.  I became a writer in that moment of that day.

How much of your book is autobiographical? 

People ask me if Mo was me when I was a girl, and the answer is no.  Mo is smarter than I am, and much funnier.  But we have lots in common.  We both wear plaid sneakers, and eat peanut butter & cucumber sandwiches.  We both live in North Carolina.  We both have tons of curiosity.  And we both care about family and where we fit in the universe.  So Three Times Lucky isn’t strictly autobiographical, but there’s certainly part of me in it.

Are you writing a sequel? 

As long as Mo’s talking, I’m writing!  J

Why should kids read books when there are so many other things to do? 

Because it’s powerful.  For me the wonder of a book is the power to co-create with the author as I read.  I can spin a new world, experience another century, learn the answers to questions I didn’t even know I wanted to ask.  I can feel things foreign to me, explore new realities.  That’s exciting.  That’s powerful.  Technology is amazing, but so far no technology I know of has caught up with the human capacity to totally imagine, to create a world in our minds and actually move in if we want to.  We are amazing!

Now, for a few personal get-to-know you questions:

Tea or coffee? 

Iced tea and hot coffee.

Food you’d rather starve than eat. 

Brains & eggs.  I used to eat them when I was a little girl growing up on a farm, but then I found out what they are… which is brains and eggs.  Ick.

Cat or dog? 


Flats or heels? 


Natural fibers or synthetics? 


Jeans or fancier? 


Ideal vacation. 

SCUBA diving someplace warm, or going somewhere with LOTS of museums.

What surprises you most about our current culture? 

That it’s changing SO fast, in so many different directions and on so many levels.

Finally, before you go, what is your best hope for Three Times Lucky?

That kids will have as much fun reading it as I had writing it.

Well, I definitely believe that’s going to happen!  I know I had a blast!  Thanks for stopping by, Sheila.  Check out Sheila’s website and go buy Three Times Lucky!  :o)



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4 responses to “Sheila Turnage: THREE TIMES LUCKY!

  1. Thanks for the tip and a great interview, Kathy. I do enjoy the daily rhythms of a people steeped in wisdom and look forwqrd to following the characters in Three Times Lucky around their town. One thing I have in common with the author: growing up in rural KY, I thought brains and eggs for breakfast was a great treat. And then came realization…

    • I hope you’re enjoying it, Joan! I had never heard of brains and eggs before … it’s probably very good for you — lots of proteins. You just can’t think about the name! :o)

  2. Three Time Lucky sounds fabulous! I think the cover is so unique and after reading what you had to say about this story I cannot wait to pick it up! Thanks!

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